Queen of Jeans Treat Being in a Band Like Online Dating
Most musicians probably wouldn’t want to compare their band’s origin to online dating — there’s still a slight taboo quality in that the form is exclusively built for temporary companionship or fleeting intimacy — but Philadelphia’s Queen of Jeans see the humor in it. The band, which recalls '60s girl group sounds with '90s distorted haze, understands the power in not taking yourself so seriously — that energy is reserved for recording.
We caught up with Queen of Jeans’ frontwoman Miriam Devora and bassist Nina Scotto at Boot & Saddle in their native South Philly to talk about solo projects and band aspirations, questionable landmarks, Phil Spector and songwriting. (We should also mention that upon arriving to the venue, Devora introduced us to her mom — apparently this is the band that gets the parents to come out for every gig. Adorable.)
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys meet?
Miriam Devora: We all met through the internet, which happens more and more now. It’s sort of like online dating — there’s online musicians “dating” because you’re always trying to find that perfect person to work with. You have a few instances where it doesn’t work and you ghost each other. Eventually you find the right person. We all kind of worked that way. Nina, our bassist, and Mattie [Glass], our lead guitarist, they met first, and then I met Mattie. I started working with them because I started ending the relationship with the band that I was in then. It’s all about relationships. I wanted to do stuff on my own, to get back to the heart of the thing I really loved: bedroom music. It started with me doing demos on GarageBand.
We started playing together. It became more about having a new band. I think, initially, I was really just thinking, “I want to play on my own, like a backing band that plays with me whenever I play live.” It turned into something more because we all really had a connection. Then we had to find a drummer, and that took six months of serial dating. Then we met [drummer] Patrick [Wall] through Craigslist. At that point, we had our whole EP done.
Did you know what Queen of Jeans was going to be?
MD: We all met on the premise of jamming and writing music together. But I came in with six songs: “I want to play these six songs; I want everyone to play with me and make parts and learn parts, and we’ll all sing together.” At first, I was thinking of calling it Miriam Devora.
Nina Scotto: Mattie and I played music. That’s how we met. Then we became friends and roommates. We stopped [playing] and then got to a point where we both wanted to get back into it. We talked about it for weeks, and then we made a weekly appointment where we’d get together and play in my attic. We didn’t have a name for a long time; then came a day where they took down this sign. There was this sign that was two stories tall. The store was called King of Jeans. King of Jeans hasn’t been open for years and years, but the sign was still there because it was so big, they didn’t know how to take it down. It became this landmark: an empty store with this giant sign. It was this dude leaning over and making out with this girl who was on her knees. It was very sexually suggestive. Finally, out of nowhere, they were taking this sign down and everyone in South Philly was freaking out, posting on Facebook about taking this sign down; and then as a joke we were like, “Let’s be Queen of Jeans,” and it stuck. The people who are from around here get it, which is what’s important.
If you just do a simple Queen of Jeans Google search without “band” or “Philly,” you get a bunch of sassy blogs.
NS: That’s so funny! We had to change our Facebook because Queen of Jeans is some Canadian denim store.
It’s a really exciting time to be a Philly band — it seems like eyes are on this place now more than ever. Does being from Philadelphia play into the identity of your band?
MD: I guess so, somewhat. Mostly through social media. I don’t think it reflects in my songwriting or anything like that. We love to shout out Philly.
NS: We’ve gotten a lot of support from Philly-centric media. XPN, The Deli, PhillyVoice: They’ve all been really supportive of us. There’s a really incredible community of Philadelphia-based musicians. In other cities, it’s not like that right now. Here, everyone kind of knows each other and offers each other shows. It’s a really nice home base.
When people write and talk about your band, they always mention your '60s girl group influence. I think that’s there — you write around sweet melodies and harmonies — but it doesn’t feel derivative of that music. You’re not making this carbon copy sound. Is that intentional in the songwriting process? Are you weary of wearing your influences on your sleeve?
MD: I don’t normally write like that, and if I do, it is intentional because it’s fun.
NS: I personally love that stuff, and I think it’s fun to embrace it.
MD: When I write my chord progressions, I think they have a '60s quality to them, the way I like to strum the guitar. It calls to that, but I think that’s because I’m influenced by a lot of music from the '60s, a lot of Dusty Springfield and Darlene Love. I listen to that for melody inspiration and different harmonies because we do three-part harmonies a lot, backing vocals in general.
NS: I’m not weary of that influence; I think it’s super fun. I think we were the first people to say “girl group-influenced,” like, when we describe it to people.
MD: Which is the hardest thing to do, and I hate having to do that to people.
NS: “We do a lot girl group harmonies.” People get it immediately when you say that.
That’s interesting, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of bands are rushing to label themselves as “girl group-influenced.”
NS: It’s different in that [Miriam] writes the songs. It’s not like Phil Spector is bossing us around.
MD: It’s music by women for women.
NS: We’re the Lifetime [network] of bands.
MD: We’re trying to bring Lilith Fair back.
NS: A lot people do forget that we had a dude in the band.
Like with Bikini Kill or Hole.
NS: He’s there! He’s just in the back.
MD: We’ve all been the token girl in a band.
NS: Everyone says, “We can’t see you back there, Patrick!”
MD: It’s my fault. It’s not on purpose. I’ve got a big butt. I’m proud of it.
Miriam, did you write the entirety of the EP and then the rest of the band added their parts?
MD: Yes. I write all the time. It’s all I do. I don’t have anything else that satisfies me as much. I do like to sit down with my guitar and just play all the time. I write pretty regularly and come up with the basic structure of the song. Not all the time. Sometimes we build together, but normally I’ll write it and sing more of it.
Are these the six best songs from that process? Are they the best of many?
MD: No. [Laughs] I started with six. That’s all I had. We played them for a long time before we had it recorded. We started in January and we were recording by the summer. We’ve been working on it for a while.
That’s surprising because it’s a good collection of songs. They all have distinct personalities.
MD: Yeah! We just wanted to introduce the world to us. I wrote it on my own intending it to be a solo thing, and then it obviously it became something else: “We have enough to play live if we’re going to do a live show, but now let’s start working on songs together.”
There’s a certain cohesive theme on the EP — these are first-person romantic songs, whether you’re exploring loving or longing of loss. Are they based in actual experience?
MD: Most of them. I’m a troubled girl. Most of the time I’m singing about my love life.
A song with a title like “Waffles & Mad Men,” that’s pretty specific.
MD: I was eating waffles and watching Mad Men. I was writing about my relationship. That kind of stuff. “Moody” isn’t about anyone; it’s about myself. How I see myself. A lot of it plays with love, self-love and self-loathing. Those songs specifically are my own little world, my own little bubble. Nothing major. Nothing about the world, but I’m trying. I definitely poke fun of myself.